Tombstone Silver

Parson Brown

The first "preechin'" at Charleston was a memorable, but not for the reason that Parson Brown had hoped.


Introduction

Charleston was a mill town about nine miles west of Tombstone. This story about the first church service in Charleston was printed in the Epitaph in 1892, 14 years after the fact, so it undoubtably contains significant embellishments; but it is a fun story.


TOMBSTONE DISTRICT IN '78

Parson Brown Expounds the Gospel, Under Difficulties, at Charleston on the Banks of the Roaring San Pedro.

Tombstone was booming in 1878. The Contention, Grand Central, Toughnut, Lucky Cuss, Vizina and Head Center, together with other bonanza claims, were turning out the richest of carbonate and chloride ores, and Tombstone District, which but a short year or so before was the undisputed haunt of the Apache, was now teeming with life and animation. Contention Hill was now dotted with great hoisting works, and towards Tombstone, the restless searchers after live mining camps turned their footsteps. The ore from these rich mines was milled at Charleston, a milling camp on the San Pedro river in southeastern Arizona. Charleston was nine miles distant from Tombstone, and the road between the two places was a busy thoroughfare, lined as it was with huge ore wagons drawn by from sixteen to twenty animals who tugged at the traces in response to black-snake whips, and the desert air fairly shuddered, as the dust begrimed teamsters yelled at the patient mules in "beautiful language soft and sweet."

Architecturally considered, Charleston was not a success, variety was lacking in the rambling adobe structures, more useful than ornamental. Along the banks of the river were scattered the camps of the prospectors and the "schaks" of the Sonoranians, and when the shades of night had fallen, the voice of the Arizona canary (jackass) was abroad in the land, mingling in soft cadence with the dolorous chant of the musical Mexicanos.

The population of Charleston was mainly composed of men employed in and around the reduction works; in addition to these, however, the stockmen along the river made it their headquarters; the troopers from Fort Huachuca dropped in as often as Uncle Sam's regulations would permit and carefully sampled Charleston whisky. Prospectors purchased their outfits; Mexican traders favored the merchants with their patronage, and numerous trains of burros laden with goods, upon which the Mexican Customs officials failed to collect the extortionate duties imposed, crossed the Sonora line; and last but not least, a choice selection of desperadoes, who, from constitutional dislike to be interviewed by the officers of the law, found Charleston, on account of its close proximity to the boundary line, a desirable place of residence, and under cover of night, many a head of stock passed down the valley, such stock having come into possession of the festive cowboy without the formality of a bill of sale. Charleston was indeed "painted red" when the last named element "whooped up." The crack of the revolver then became a familiar sound, and much valuable time was lost by leading citizens through serving on coroner's juries.

Money was plenty: Miners were paid $4 and mill men and mechanics $5 to $7 per day. The lowest coin in circulation was two bits: nickles were unknown. No railroad had crossed the territory, and there was no demand for cheap labor to harvest the crop of bullion that flowed from the mills, the roar and rumble of whose stamps echoed and re-echoed across the valley of the San Pedro. In fact, Charleston was a "live camp."

One Sunday morning as I passed up the main thoroughfare, the following "NOTIS" met my astonished gaze:

"PREECHIN NOTIS"

The Rev. Josiah Brown will preach at the Dans-haul, at 10 o'clock a.m.

TXT.

"The wiked flea, when no man pursuith but the rychus, is as bold as a lion."

It is proper to state that the Rev. Josiah had no hand in the preparation of this remarkable notice. It was the sole production of Mr. Bill Jones, who laid claim to having been deacon "back east before the wah," consequently he deemed it his duty to do all that lay in his power to make the first "preechin" in Charleston a success.

As for the Rev. Josiah, it transpired that he had been informed by trustworthy persons in Boston, that the "noble red man of Arizona" was sadly in need of spiritual consolation, and he had accordingly ventured into the territory with a view to establishing a mission at the San Carlos reservation. It required but a short time, however, to convince the Rev. Josiah that the Apache was alike hostile to religion, fine tooth combs and other prerogatives of civilization. To still further discourage him, one of the periodical outbreaks occurred, and Josiah, with a laudable ambition to retain his scalp, upon which a few straggling locks yet remained, rather than have it depend from the belt of some unregenerate Apache, wisely lit out for a new field of usefulness. Hence his presence in our midst.

A small but select audience greeted the Rev. Josiah at the time and place mentioned. The services had hardly commenced, however, when an unlooked for interruption occurred. A wild looking individual of the cowboy species, rejoicing in the soubriquet of Curly Bill, stepped inside the door, and producing an enormous pistol of the self cocking variety, he calmly sighted it at the Rev. Josiah's eye admonishing him that he would shoot out that useful member, unless he danced a hornpipe forthwith. It is unnecessary to state that his request was immediately complied with, and after the parson had pirouetted over the platform to the entire satisfaction of Curly, that individual gracefully backed out of the door, mounted his mustang, which, under the stimulus of ear-splitting yells and a liberal application of the spurs, rapidly shook the dust of Charleston from his hoofs.

The morning services were thus brought to an abrupt termination. An indignation meeting of the citizens of Charleston was called, at which it was resolved:

That a committee be appointed to call upon the Rev. Brown, express the regrets of the community, and assure him that in the event of his conducting services at 2 p. m., he will be afforded ample protection.

That Jim Henry be, and is hereby appointed a committee of one, to go over to Wellisch's store, examine the stock of ropes on hand, select such a one as he may think appropriate, and subsequently make an examination of the limb of the old cotton wood tree on the river.

After much persuasion, Bro. Brown accepted the proposition of the committee, and as the hour of meeting approached, business was generally suspended in town. Even the dealer at Ayer's faro bank, as he made the "last turn" admonished the players to "set 'em in high" 'cause he was going to close the game till after church and go over and see that the parson had a "square deal," furthermore that all splits on the last deal were to go into the contribution box.

It was considered the duty of all to attend the meeting. Some of the boys protested that their clothes "want fit ter go ter meetin': hadn't been to church in sech a long time thet they was fraid the roof mit cave in on um," but such expostulations availed them not. The reputation of Charleston was at stake and the parson must have a good "send off."

As a matter of course, the few worthy ladies of Charleston were present. Ed Schieffelin, the pioneer of the district, was one of the congregation. His long locks hung down over his shoulders, his red shirt and high topped boots would have made him a marked member of any congregation. His rifle, that had been his companion on many a long prospecting trip, was at hand.

Many of the congregation had Winchesters, others were content with the less pretentious revolver, and it was evident to Bro. Brown that the sinner who should again interrupt the services would find "Jordan a hard road to travel."

In view of the fact that Bro. Brown's nerves had been stretched to their utmost tension in consequence of his morning's experience, he made a powerful effort. The sermon and the rendition of that good old hymn "From Greenland's Icy Mountains," stirred up memories in the bosoms of some of the listeners, that had not been awakened in many years, and the moment was s propitious one, when Bro. Brown suggested that a contribution be taken up, bolding out his hat in lieu of a contribution box.

The parson's hat was revelation to the frontier at that time. With the exception of Jack Dolan's it was the first plug hat to enter the district, and had the owner been other than a holy man, the chances of its being used as a target, and that without the formality of the owner being requested to remove it from his head, were good.

Bro. Brown's hat was indeed a curio. In its prime it might have been a glossy tile, but now alas, its nap through which the winds of many Boston winter had whistled, was lustreless and scant. Its glory had departed. Quick as the parson held it forth, Jerry Barton seized it, a contemptuous smile over his countenance. I felt assured that the days of the old plug were numbered.

Stuttering out, N-o-nuthin l-less t-than a d--dollar g-g-goes, Jerry proceeded with the collection, shaking the improvised contribution box, thus rattling the coin to stimulate further contributions. By the time he had reached those in the rear portion of the hall, numerous "adobes" as the Mexican dollars then in circulation were called, had found their way into the old hat, when suddenly, under the influence of an extra vigorous shake on the part of Jerry, a rip, a crash of coin, and the crown of the old hat fell to the floor, leaving naught but the rim in the hands of the irrepressible Jerry, who, after gathering up the coin, advanced to the front, dumped the "adobes" and instinctively "sized up the stacks" thus ascertaining that the sum total of the collection amounted to $103.

The Doxology was then rendered with great effect, Bro. Brown, with one eye fixed upon the shining stacks of "dobes" before him, threw great emphasis into "Praise God from whom all blessings flow", and thus ended the first services at Charleston.


Location

Charleston was located about nine miles west of Tombstone on the banks of the San Pedro river at what is today the Charleston Road bridge. No tour from Tombstone ventures this far from town, but Charleston was a mill town that was crucial to the success of the mines.